Immediately after the mass shooting that left 17 people dead in Broward County, Florida, the Gateway Pundit’s White House correspondent tweeted a fake BuzzFeed story that claimed white people needed to have their guns taken away.
The fake post, titled “Why We Need To Take Away White People’s Guns Now More Than Ever”, first appeared on the far-right Twitter account MagaPill. The account, which has been previously retweeted by President Donald Trump, shares unhinged conspiracy theories on everything from Pizzagate to “earthquake machines” and “false flag terrorism”.
The tweet was then picked up by the Gateway Pundit’s Lucian Wintrich, who has White House press credentials. After Wintrich was called out for spreading fake news, he deleted the tweet but justified it by saying that there were “100k comments” on Twitter “that reflect the same sentiment.” The claim also made its way over to 4chan’s politically incorrect board.
Gateway Pundit circulating a hoax screenshot of BuzzFeed News reporting in aftermath of FL school shooting. Let me be clear, this is fake. pic.twitter.com/VNJuYPec0a
— Jon Passantino (@passantino) February 15, 2018
Gateway Pundit WH correspondent Lucian Wintrich has a remarkably bad explanation for why he promoted a hoax BuzzFeed article after the Florida shooting pic.twitter.com/iNBGBAVJhk
— Will Sommer (@willsommer) February 15, 2018
This isn’t the first time that the Gateway Pundit has pushed fake, unsubstantiated rumors after a deadly shooting. In the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, Gateway Pundit used a rumor picked up from 4chan to run a story about how the shooter was a Democrat “Who Liked Rachel Maddow, MoveOn.org and Associated with Anti-Trump Army.”
When it became clear that the story was completely false, Gateway Pundit deleted it from its site. Wintrich later admitted the story was false but refused to apologize, saying that Gateway Pundit had gotten the information from “multiple tips”.
It’s not just Gateway Pundit. The mass shooting in Broward County has again brought out the trolls, who are spreading the same tired fake news stories they spread after the attacks in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs. However, while a large number of these rumors are simply crude, cruel trolling techniques, a significant number of them are tailor-made to spread rumors designed to target right-wing fears.
Evidence for the scope of this problem was seen last November in a study published by researchers at the University of Alabama, Cyprus University of Technology, University College London and Telefonica Research. They found that far-right communities on 4chan and Reddit “can have a surprising level of influence on Twitter, providing evidence that ‘fringe communities often succeed in spreading alternative news to mainstream social networks and the greater Web.”
What this means is that conspiracy theories that would have once been fringe now have a direct path to mainstream news and social media sites, which can help set up a far-right narrative for mass shootings while most people are a step behind behind, trying to simply figure out what’s going on. Meanwhile, figures like Lucian Wintrich, Mike Cernovich, and Alex Jones act as stepping stones for the conspiracy theories, capitalizing on their own popularity.